Since the late 1960s, customers have called businesses to get help with their orders or accounts. Once touch-tone dialing debuted, it was only a matter of time before toll-free numbers and automated voice systems became the norm.
However, customer service lines have traditionally come with long hold times, agents who spoke poor English, and other inconveniences. The dawn of Internet-based customer service helped relieve the pressure, but it also created a new expectation: Today’s consumers want instant resolution and personalized support.
Customer service is evolving quickly to address these needs. Let’s look at the main challenges businesses face when providing virtual or phone-based customer service — and how we can overcome them.
Challenge #1: Poor Integration Between Customer Service and Sales
We’ve all experienced it: You have a frustrating problem with your order, and the customer service staff can’t resolve your issue. Then, you receive a marketing campaign from the business asking for even more of your hard-earned money.
That experience soured your impression of that brand. When it comes to your own business, you don’t want your own customers to feel unheard or disappointed. Unfortunately, sales, marketing, and customer service have traditionally been separate departments. If they’re not sharing information, customers face more hurdles, such as:
- Receiving irrelevant offers or promotions
- Having to repeat their information multiple times
- Inconsistency between phone, email, and chat interactions
Today’s CRM tools offer seamless integration among all your customer service tools (e.g., helpdesk tickets, order inquiries) and your overall sales/marketing tactics. Now, the challenge is to ensure that all your agents are logging customer inquiries accurately. To achieve that, you must free up your reps’ valuable time.
Challenge #2: Agents Spend Precious Time Answering Basic Questions
Anyone who has worked in customer service knows that many customers will ignore information that’s right in front of them. As long as call centers have existed, lines have been tied up by customers with questions whose answers were already provided to them. To fix this, businesses have deployed everything from “Frequently Asked Questions” webpages to automated IVR messages listing business hours and so on.
Yet the problem persists. And to be fair, some customers may not have access to the answers. Making your customer service as convenient as possible will save you time and keep your customers happy.
There are now some powerful self-service tools that allow customers to get answers to their burning questions so agents can devote their time to those who need detailed assistance.
Some of these customer service tools include:
Chatbots: These AI-powered “virtual agents” can answer basic questions and capture user information. If the customer’s issue is not resolved, the bot directs them to a human agent with all relevant details attached.
Messenger: A lower-tech version of chatbots, Meta’s Messenger app, found on both Facebook and Instagram, offers customers a set of question options and instant answers.
Advanced IVR: Interactive Voice Response has evolved significantly since its early years of “Press 1 for X.” Thanks to Natural Language Processing AI, it can now interpret voice queries, access a customer’s account details, and provide basic answers. If the caller still needs assistance, they’re automatically routed to the correct department.
At a certain point, automation is not enough, and customers will need to speak to a human. This brings us to yet another challenge.
Challenge 3: Disjointed Customer Experience with Call Centers
Call centers emerged in the 1960s to make sales and handle customer inquiries. As markets became globalized and companies expanded, though, those call centers eventually decentralized. To save money, many businesses outsourced their customer service to other countries. While this helped extend call center hours, it also led to consumers’ frustration for the following reasons:
- Many of these outsourced call centers were staffed by people who spoke little English. They relied on scripts and couldn’t always interpret customers’ complex questions.
- Cultural differences made it challenging to adjust tone or de-escalate angry callers.
- The reps were completely separate from other departments, so there was no carry-over from email to phone or vice versa.
Also, there was simply more demand for phone-based customer service. As more people got phones, more calls came in. The high volume led to long wait times, and language barriers often made it difficult to get a quick resolution.
Advanced IVR and automated responses certainly helped reduce the workload. But the core problem remained: callers wanted to talk to a human who could understand them and solve their problem. Often, the reps would be forced to stick to a script. There was no ability to access the relevant email thread or chat transcript.
To resolve the problem, call centers themselves had to change. New integrated CRM tools helped create an omnichannel experience, i.e., customers could contact a business through phone, chat, or email, and they’d get consistent personalized service.
To overcome the cultural and linguistic barriers of outsourcing, companies began to embrace staff augmentation. These call centers offered reps who had a deeper understanding of the business’s values. They were trained to provide in-depth customer service rather than simply reading from a script.
In some cases, these augmented call centers were “nearshore,” i.e., they were in nearby countries that spoke the same language. This helped overcome cultural barriers and provide an easier customer experience.
Today, virtual customer service encompasses phone calls, IVR, chat, and email. New AI technology tackles the bulk of customers’ basic questions, freeing up human agents’ time and energy for advanced issues. And with the rising popularity of nearshore staff augmentation, businesses are better equipped than ever in history to overcome challenges in customer service.